Why, after all, should Mr. Fukuda’s government function on the basis of a parliamentary majority secured more than two years ago under his predecessor before last? What mandate does Mr. Fukuda have to govern? For that matter, what mandate did Mr. Abe have to govern? This is a flaw of parliamentary systems. Why should executive power be handed from one leader to another, like an heirloom, without the people being consulted whether they’re still content with the governing party?
While constitution revision is, for the moment, off the table, perhaps the Japanese constitution needs an amendment that will give the public some oversight over the process of selecting prime ministers. In place of the occasionally suggested direct election of the prime minister, which is inconsistent with Japan’s (admittedly incompletely) Westminster democracy, a revised constitution could approximate direct election by making a general election compulsory within a given period of time following the election of a new prime minister in the Diet.
A prime minister should earn his own governing majority, and the composition of the House of Representatives should reflect prevailing political conditions. If asked, the public may always accept the Diet’s choice of prime minister and give the new government a majority, but the Japanese people should at least be consulted.
I am not automatically against constitution revision — no document should be so sacrosanct that it cannot be altered to reflect new realities. A problem with contemporary Japanese politics is that the idea of constitution revision has been hijacked by the ultra-nationalists, who have prioritized revisions that will have little practical impact on the workings of the Japanese government. There is a dire need for political change — including constitution revision — that will make the Japanese political system more open and more reflective of the concerns of the public.
Of course, it’s probably too much to expect the political elite to push for this manner of constitution revision. And as a practical matter, Mr. Fukuda and the LDP are in no hurry to ask the Japanese people for a new mandate for governing.